Are you content? Is your life “enough” for you?
Content. Enough. In North America, those words seem to have taken on a negative connotation. It’s almost like we should never be happy with what we have, or who we are. There is always a push for “more”. Saying that what you have is enough has come to mean that you are “settling”. Settling is bad, because you are special, you are unique and you deserve the best!!! As a result you should never be satisfied. The danger here is that you get into this never ending cycle or always wanting more.
What’s that, you make $30k a year? Well look at all the things you can have if you made $40k. How about $50k, $100k, $2 million? There will always be more. The question is, when is something “enough”.
I used money because it’s easy to quantify different levels (2 is larger than 1). But this mindset pervades all aspects of life and one of the big areas is happiness. The “quality” of your life is seen as something that can only be measured by your own personal level of happiness. If you aren’t happy this becomes a reflection on the quality of your life. Obviously something is missing, or you need more. But what is missing?
Will a hobby help? A new job? A new relationship? Hobbies are easy to try. Jobs may be a bit more difficult (especially if you are in a career), but they are doable. Most companies understand that people are trying to build a career, and if you leave on good terms a good employee is often welcomed back.
Relationships, though? Those aren’t the sort of thing where you can just “test the waters” and see what’s out there and then come back if things don’t work out. Well technically you can, and many do. But I’m pretty sure that would be referred to as an affair, and personally I don’t advise them.
I suspect everyone has heard stories of people who leave relationships because they are unhappy and looking for some kind of change in their life. What they have isn’t enough, and they believe that better opportunities exist for them.
Some people make a change and find that a new start was exactly what they needed. Others make a change and eventually realize it was a mistake. Here are a few stories of the latter variety:
One buddy was married, and about a year after their first child was born his wife walked out. He doesn’t know what happened, but believes she found the reality of being a wife and a parent didn’t match up to her expectations and she didn’t want to do it anymore. He tried holding onto the marriage for a while, and they lived in separate rooms while she relived her youth and went back to the party scene. After a while he gave up and filed for divorce. He hurt for a long time, but eventually moved on with his life.
About two years after their split while doing the weekly exchange of their son his ex-wife told him she missed him, realized she had made a mistake and wondered if it would be possible for them to try again. He told me that hearing her admit it was a mistake made things worse for him, because he had never wanted their relationship to fail and he had tried his best to hold on. But by then it was too late.
Another buddy was raised by his mom, as his parents separated when he was young. While he was growing up his mom had a number of boyfriends that came and went, but none of them were around for very long. When he was older his mom admitted to him that leaving his dad was the biggest mistake she had ever made, and he doesn’t believe she’s ever really been happy in a relationship since.
In both cases the person who left the relationship wasn’t happy, and felt there was “more” out there. They felt they could be happier with a different person, or a different life. In both cases they found that life on the other side wasn’t exactly what they expected, and they didn’t appreciate what they had until it was gone.
Exciting and New
I have to admit, I don’t know a lot about the relationships in the above scenarios. I met the first guy a few years after his wife walked out. For the other guy, I’ve never met his parents. What I do know is one member of the relationship wanted things to work out while the other wanted to “spread their wings”; and in both cases later regretted things. Maybe the problem was that they had got in a rut. Maybe things had just gotten boring, and the wives were looking for a bit more “excitement” in their lives. At the very least, it’s safe to say that they were looking for “something” that was missing in their relationships. Well, “new” doesn’t stay new forever, and neither does excitement actually.
A few years ago a buddy of mine went through… well, I’m not actually sure what he went though. He was well educated, and working a good job in his chosen field. We weren’t close, but we made a point of getting together periodically for lunch to catch up on each others lives. One day we went for lunch and he seemed as happy and positive as usual. A few months later I received a mass email saying he had quit his job and was moving out to the coast to become a white water rafting instructor, which he did for a number of years before eventually returning home.
A while back we got together to catch up and he told me a bit about his life as a white water rafting instructor. The work was seasonal, so when the season was over he alternated between traveling the world (finding hot destinations) and crashing at his parents’ house back home. In his words, he became a bit of a gypsy. He said he enjoyed it at first, but started to miss family and friends. He had relationships, but since he was fairly transient, the only relationships he had were passing things with people who weren’t looking for anything serious. Money was tight, and he didn’t have a sense of permanence. Not only that, but his job started to become exactly that – just another job. He came to realize that:
It doesn’t matter what you are doing, everything becomes routine eventually.
His is a pretty extreme case. We all have bills, and we all need jobs to pay them. At the bare minimum we need food and shelter, but we probably want a bit more than that. So there isn’t really a lot that we can change. With most of our days spent working to support our lives, much of life is routine.
So how can we become happier? To do that we need to learn to enjoy the small moments in life. More importantly, we need to learn to appreciate them. Appreciation and gratefulness are some of the biggest indicators of success and happiness in relationships. Those who appreciate and are grateful for their partners tend to be happy. Those who aren’t, not so much.
It’s an unfortunate fact that many people don’t appreciate what they have though, and it takes losing it in order to realize what they have lost. It’s sad that many relationships are lost due to a simple lack of appreciation. But why is that?
Characteristics of Unhappy People
I recently read an article on chronically unhappy people, and it was found that they tend to share a number of traits. These traits included:
- Victims mentality. Seeing yourself as a victim of circumstance or “the situation” and not believing you have the power to make changes
- Focusing on what’s wrong or missing instead of what you have. This is similar to the lack of appreciation mentioned above
- Comparing yourself to others. This is related to focusing on what is missing, and it breeds jealousy and resentment – two very toxic behaviors
- Try to control or micromanage your life and being rigid about change. Being a control freak is extremely unhealthy, as your way isn’t always the right way. But even if it was, life has a way of throwing you curveballs, and you must be flexible enough to adapt accordingly
- Worry and Fear. Focusing on all the things that could go wrong instead of focusing on what has gone right
All of these are toxic attitudes and habits. As the article mentions, these are things that we all do sometimes. But there is a strong correlation between our happiness and how long we stay in these mindsets vs working to get out of them.
When people hear the saying “you are responsible for your own happiness” it means you have the capacity to make appropriate changes in your life. But often it’s easier to look externally then it is to look in the mirror. I don’t think finding happiness has to mean changing your relationship, job, or distancing yourself from family and friends (though these are definitely all things that could be contributing to unhappiness).
I think being responsible for your own happiness is really about looking at your own attitudes and your approach to life and learning to slow down, let go of control and appreciate the things you already have.
People often fight change, and cling to the status quo even if they know that their approach to life is self-destructive. They feel they can’t change, because “it’s just the way I am” and I can empathize with that. Change isn’t easy, especially if you have a lifetime of attitudes and habits to break.
Earlier I mentioned my buddy who became a white water rafting instructor. Guess what he’s doing now? He’s doing the same job he was doing before. But now he sees it in a new light, and approaches it with a different attitude. More than skill, intelligence or beauty, attitude is the most important quality we have.
I recently read an interesting article on affairs. It suggested that people who have affairs are trying to fill a hole in their lives and find something that is missing. That seems fairly obvious. The interesting part is that the article went on to state that the things people are looking for are things they either had or could have in their current relationships. However they stopped putting them in themselves. Take passion for example. Passion often fades, and is used as an excuse (sorry, I mean reason) for affairs. People look for passion outside the relationship because they have stopped putting it into their own relationship. Again, this comes down to attitude and approach.
I’m by no means suggesting that leaving a relationship is always a mistake. Sometimes a fresh start is better for both parties. But I do think many relationships fail unnecessarily. In many cases people simply stopped giving their existing relationships the care it needed. If that has happened, most relationships can be saved by refocusing on them, nurturing and rebuilding.
So is the grass really greener on the other side? No, it’s simply a matter of perception. Perfection doesn’t exist, so when people make changes they are exchanging one set of opportunities and problems for another.